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PBS to Film Richard Nelson's 'Apple Family Plays'

Regular Singing Play Still - H 2013
Joan Marcus
A scene from "Regular Singing," the fourth and final installment of "The Apple Family Plays"

The four dramas about the political and personal lives of an American family in Rhinebeck, N.Y., have been critical hits both individually and together in rep at the Public Theater.

NEW YORK -- There's good news for theater fans unable to score tickets to Richard Nelson's acclaimed dramas, The Apple Family Plays: Scenes From Life in the Country, before the series ends its sold-out repertory season at the Public Theater on Sunday. The four plays will be filmed for future broadcast on PBS.

The production arm of New York PBS station WNET, Thirteen Productions, will shoot special performances of the plays the week after their official Off Broadway run closes. An airdate has not yet been set.

The Apple Family Plays are an amazing writing achievement, but they have also been blessed with one of the greatest ensembles New York has seen in recent years,” said Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis.

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The play cycle began in 2010 with That Hopey Changey Thing, which introduced the Apple family of Rhinebeck, N.Y., as they reflected on their own lives and the state of the nation while polls closed on that year's mid-term election night. That first installment, like the three that followed, had its official opening on the same night as the events it depicted, heightening the plays' immediacy.

Nelson followed in 2011 with Sweet and Sad, set on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The 2012 entry, Sorry, checked in on the family the morning of the most recent presidential election. The series concluded this year with Regular Singing, which unfolds on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

The quartet of plays offers a unique insight into our individual and shared hopes and anxieties, and the value of memories, amid the rapid changes of 21st century life, as experienced by one liberal American family.

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"To my knowledge, no previous works of theater have been topical in the resonant and specific ways of the Apple Family plays," wrote Ben Brantley in The New York Times in his review of Regular Singing. "What happens in these productions is both casual and momentous, as any day in a life is when examined closely enough."

All four plays were directed by Nelson and have been running in repertory since October 22. The ensemble cast includes Jon DeVries, Stephen Kunken, Sally Murphy, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins and Jay O. Sanders

Past Public Theater productions filmed for PBS's Great Performances series include a 1974 King Lear starring James Earl Jones and Raul Julia; Samuel Beckett's Happy Days in 1980; and Kevin Kline in Hamlet in 1990. The Apple Family Plays will be directed for television by David Horn and produced by Mitch Owgang.